I’ll be the first to admit that until I left college I didn’t put much thought into my plastic consumption. As a lover of the natural world, I was an avid recycler. However, did I really think about what would happen to my plastic wrapper once I was done with it? Not really.Did I buy skids of water to use at home when I could have easily just used a filter and a cup? Yes. Was it easy for me to assume I needed that plastic fork that came with my take-out food, even when I planned to eat the meal at home anyway? I don’t know why, but yes.
It wasn’t until the last couple years that I started to educate myself on effects of the waste that we humans produce and how the consumption of single-use plastic negatively impacts our animals, environment, and even us humans.
We’re swimming in plastic, literally.
Plastic entered the mainstream after World War II as our culture started to develop its taste for disposable goods, cheapest of which has almost always been plastic. By the time most of us were born, the world (including our marine life) was already swimming in an abundance of plastic. Anywhere we turn, whether to our clothes or meals or workspaces or transportation, we’re surrounded by plastic. And for good reasons: it’s cheap, it’s incredibly easy to manufacture, and meant to last forever.
So what’s the issue?
We have grown so accustomed to the all-around convenience that plastic offers that we take it for granted as a fact of life with little consideration about the extent of its effects on the health of our planet as well as our bodies. Nothing is free and few things are actually cheap; the cost of our convenience is paid somewhere. More often than not, it’s the natural environment and wildlife that pick up the tab. It’s unlikely anyone specifically wants to harm the environment, it’s simply that using plastic has become such a common, assumed, and effortless part of our lifestyles that it’s so easy not be aware of how much of an impact it truly has.
33% of plastics we use are single-use and only about 8% of that is being recycled. And most of the time, these plastics are not recycled, they are downcycled. Plastics that aren’t placed in the recycling bins head straight to landfills or stray off into our oceans where they poisoning our earth and food chain by slowly leaching out toxins into our groundwater and breaking down into microplastics that are mistaken for food by wildlife.
“Hit it and quit it,” the life of single-use plastic
Though plastic in general makes me cringe, I certainly recognize that it has made many useful, even life-saving, products and technological advances possible. In our current society, it’s nearly impossible to have an absolutely plastic-free world.
The biggest source of plastic in our environment is put there as waste, specifically through the casual, mindless consumption of single-use plastic. Single-use plastics are those products that are used once and meant to be simply thrown away, things like water bottles, wrappers, disposable utensils, straws, grocery bags, to-go containers, etc. Why make something that may take only minutes or even seconds of use just to throw it in the trash where they will be in the environment long after our great, great grandchildren’s lives? It’s truly sad.
So, what can we do?
While recycling is encouraged, it is only small part of the solution. The best way to tackle this issue is to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic products and ultimately stop using them entirely. The good news is that although single-use plastic is one of the biggest and harmful contributors to pollution, with a little mindfulness and planning ahead, it is one of the easiest and quickest solutions to tackle. If you’re interested in making a positive impact on the planet, there’s no time like the present (seriously, the planet’s asking for it)!
On this Earth Day, let’s commit to breaking up with single-use disposable plastic. Thinking about “forever” may be daunting, so give it a shot for only one month. But once you see how painless it is, forever just might not be that hard.
Below are three plastic swaps to easily eliminate the use of single-use plastic in everyday life.
1. Don’t just recycle your plastic water bottles, REFUSE buying them in the first place.
Americans throw away about 25,000,000 plastic bottles every hour and like I mentioned before, only a small percentage of that is recycled. The bottles that go astray or end up in landfills take about about 1,000 years to decompose while leaching toxins in our soils.
It takes only a little bit of planning to make this part of your daily routine, but once you establish the habit, bringing a reusable water bottle is not only cheaper than buying skids of bottled water at the grocery store or picking up a bottle at the vending machine, it saves a TON of plastic from getting into our oceans and landfills.
Ugh! Imagine if everyone just changed this one habit? Start by bringing a reusable water bottle (glass or stainless steel) everywhere you go. And let’s just be honest, reusable bottles are just way cooler looking!
2. Shop with reusable bags.
I see plastic bags everywhere. Sometimes trapped in shrubs, rolling in the middle of the street like hay bales, and even floating in our oceans where thousands of marine animals ingest, choke, and sadly suffer the consequences. I’ve also watched (countless times) cashiers unnecessarily double bag grocery items and even place single items their own plastic bag. Come on, man!
This one is simple, bring your own reusable bags. These bags are frequently given out for free at events or are for purchase in most grocery stores as well as online. There have been plenty of times I have forgotten my reusable bags at home and now I have made it a habit to keep them stored in my car. I now even have at least one in my purse at all times. Every bag counts. Let’s start bringing our own!
3. Forego plastic straws.
American’s use around 500 million plastic straws a day! Like plastic bags, when straws get into our environment, many birds and other wildlife are tricked to believe they are food for them to eat. To help keep another straw where it doesn’t belong, let your server know that you don’t want one the next time you order a drink. The more customers deny them, the fewer will be re-ordered, which will, in time, decrease the demand of them being produced at all. #goals
If you are a business owner, think about the money you would save by not providing straws in the first place. To be honest, I’m not even sure the majority of customers would even miss them!
If you are someone like me who loves using straws in their smoothies or water, choose reusable straws that don’t suck. :). Make the switch to reusable straws made of glass, bamboo, or stainless steel.
Let’s Start Being Mindful
Let’s start paying attention to each item we use or bring into our lives. Change starts with you and me, with our dollars, with our voice, with our actions. And remember, it’s not about perfection. Don’t do nothing because you think you can’t do everything. There are times, especially in emergencies, where single-use plastic may be the only option. It’s all about balance, making smart choices, planning ahead, doing your best, and starting where we are.
I hope these tips will help you on your plastic-free journey! Thanks for choosing to live every day with the earth in mind. Let me know in the comments what you plan to do the rest of this month to eliminate plastic in your life.
Happy Earth Day, each and every day!
Learn more about the effects of single-use plastic.
CNN | Midway, a plastic island
Bag It (trailer for the documentary)
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